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Talkin’ Sports: Hawks’ Draft is Unclear for Now

By Richard Case Guest Columnist | 7/3/2013, 9:21 a.m.
Last Thursday night, as the NBA draft unfolded, fans of the Atlanta Hawks could feel the tension and drama building.
2013 Atlanta Hawks’ Draft Picks (L-R): Lucas Nogueira (16th overall), Mike Muscala (44th overall), Dennis Schroeder (17th overall).

Last Thursday night, as the NBA draft unfolded, fans of the Atlanta Hawks could feel the tension and drama building. They approached the two first-round picks with a sense of anticipation. Then, the surprising happened. Fresh off this year’s Finals appearance and four championships as a Spurs assistant, Coach Mike Budenholzer began his Hawks head coaching tenure by selecting point guards Dennis Schroeder (17th) from Germany and Shane Larkin (18th) from the University of Miami.

Larkin was quickly sent to the Mavericks as part of a prior deal that netted big man Lucas Noguiera from Brazil for the Hawks. These are hardly the kind of picks that will generate any buzz around the capital of the Peach State. In fact, they were more of a buzz kill.

Listen closely, Hawks fans! Because of the 2013 draft selections, do you think you will hear these three sounds? First, the sound of a chartered jet flying Dwight Howard from Los Angeles to his hometown via free agency. Next, the sound of phones ringing off the hook at the Hawks ticket office. Thirdly, the sound of excited fans doing the Wobble in the middle of Peachtree Street.

Yawn. Based on how the Hawks squandered their 2013 picks, the loudest sound likely to be heard is the chirp of crickets.

These have got to be two of the Hawks’ most underwhelming first-round picks in recent years; joining the likes of Acie Law in 2007 and Shelden “The Landlord” Williams in 2006. To quote Dave Chappelle(in character as Rick James): “If I had two more hands, I’d give it four thumbs down!” And this is why no one across the league takes the Hawks seriously.

Earlier on draft night, the Cavaliers created a stir by selecting Anthony Bennett as the top overall pick. Bennett, the power forward from UNLV and the Mountain West Freshman of the Year, became the fifth number one pick by the Cavs since 1971 and the first ever Canadian-born player to be taken number one overall. Adding Bennett to a roster that includes Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, and Tristan Thompson makes Cleveland a serious threat to reach the playoffs next season.

However, no team made a bigger splash in the draft than the New Jersey Nets, and it wasn’t with a draft pick. Owner Mikhail Prokhorov sent shockwaves throughout the Eastern Conference by acquiring Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Jason Terry from the Celtics to unite with Deron Williams, Brook Lopez, and Joe Johnson. This move bolsters the Nets’ roster and makes them a clear and present danger to the reign of the Miami Heat.

This leads back to the inhabitants of the Highlight Factory. The Hawks faced the Pacers in the opening round of the playoffs and succumbed to the bigger, deeper, and superior Indiana squad in six games. The season before, the Hawks lost to those Celtics, in seven games, in the first round, again.

In 2011, the Hawks lost to the Bulls, in six games, this time in the second round. See a pattern?

For too long, the bar has been set too low. This new coach must stop the streak of early playoff exits.

Now that the free agent bidding process is under way, Atlanta has to apply that $33 million in salary it has to convince star players that Atlanta’s a worthy destination. They need to tout the merits of playing in the system Coach Bud helped to perfect in San Antonio. They need to enlist Josh Smith as an ambassador to help lure Howard back home to play center.

Furthermore, they need to sell Smith on staying with the Hawks and playing small forward for less than a max deal. Slide Al Horford to the power forward spot, and then make an offer to Monte Ellis to be the shooting guard.

Bold, beautiful moves like these could alter the course of the Hawks’ fortunes for years to come. Then Hawks fans might hear those three sounds for real, and Wobble to their hearts’ content in the middle of Peachtree Street.